Sunday, February 24, 2013

Food Experiments--Hers and Mine

So, Stacey and I have finished Chapter 1 of "7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess."  If I had to sum up my feelings toward the book in one sentence, it would be this:
I like it and I'm looking forward to continuing to read it but this author is too cheerleader for me even though I think her writing is entertaining and she's onto something with this whole "less of me and my junk and more of God and His kingdom" thing.  

Apologies to my high school English teacher for the construction of that sentence.  

This first chapter was focused on food, so I thought I'd share both my thoughts about the book and a recent food experiment of my own.  For the month that Jen (the author of the book) focused on excess food, she limited herself to eating only seven foods: chicken, eggs, whole wheat bread, sweet potatoes, spinach, avocados and apples.  She denied herself any beverages other than water and relinquished her use of condiments other than salt and pepper.  

The loss of condiments was apparently the hardest part for her.  "I believe food is simply a vehicle to devour sauces.  I am a flavor junkie," she said.  Frankly, as she got deeper into her month of fasting, her descriptions  disgusted me just a wee bit.

She was watching a woman in front of her at Subway who "had not one, not two, but three sauces ladled on her sandwich: sweet chicken teriyaki sauce, honey mustard, and oil and vinegar.  She even had them spread the sauces with a spatula for even coverage." 

For real?  How can you taste the goodness of any of those single toppings when there is such a deluge?

Whatever floats your boat, I guess.  I am not a foodie.  It's not that I don't enjoy eating, it's just that I'm an underachiever when it comes to food.  I strive to meet the minimum requirements of thinking about food--buying it, preparing it, and eating it.  For me, there's no going above and beyond in this category.

Haitian meals are prepared using sauces and spices, and I've come to enjoy them all.  There's the standard "Creole" sauce which is tomato based, with other onion-y stuff.  And then there are broth-y sauces and the sauces that are really just pureed beans.  They use a lot of garlic and peppers for flavoring here, too. 

My kitchen has some garlic in it. And ground pepper, salt, cinnamon, and onion powder.  That's about it.  There's ketchup and mustard in the fridge.  Limiting myself to seven foods while living here in Haiti wouldn't be much of a stretch.  

The author talked a lot about reducing the variety of food options she had to choose from.  However, she didn't talk much about limiting the conveniences of her food choices.  She still ate at restaurants.  She still used the pre-cooked frozen chicken breasts that she bought at WalMart.  Back at home in Illinois, I absolutely took for granted the ease with which I was able to produce a meal.  

Here in Haiti, I've learned a lot about cooking from scratch.  For instance, there is no bakery nearby where we live.  If we're going to have bread for pbj sandwiches for lunch boxes, it's going to be bread that I bake myself.  And guess what?  I'm a pretty darn good baker.  Every week, I call upon all my old 4-H training and bake up some very delicious stuff.  My cinnamon rolls are good enough to be pinned all over Pinterest.  

People living in places like Haiti have to take advantage of seasonal foods that are available.  Fortunately, in tropical climates, you can get many fruits and veggies throughout the year--like pumpkins!  Many Haitians use pumpkin (joumou, in Creole) for soup, which I blogged about earlier this year.  But, I decided to take a break from our usual banana bread and make pumpkin bread instead.  There's no boxed mix here, folks.  No cans of pumpkin puree.  Just a whole, real pumpkin.

Pumpkins in Haiti look very different from the pumpkins I'm used to in the Midwest.  They're green.

But, when you slice them open, they look very similar.  There's less of all that orange squishy stuff, but the same teardrop-shaped seeds and the same pumpkin smell. 

So, I scooped out the mush and separated the seeds, 'cause I like to roast those and eat them, too. I had a helper who enjoyed all that ooey-gooeyness.

Then, I chopped the pumpkin part into chunks and greased a cookie sheet.  

I heated the oven to about 425, put a little oil and salt on the seeds, and cooked 'em up.  The seeds were crunchy in about 20 minutes, but the pumpkin chunks took longer to be tender.

The pumpkin didn't look much different when it was done cooking, but it was soft and I was able to cut the rind off easily.  I smashed all the pumpkin up (No, I don't have a KitchenAid mixer, ya'll.  But, thank goodness I do have a little electric hand mixer.) and then mixed it in with the bread ingredients (recipe here), and a little cinnamon and Haitian vanilla.  I greased two loaf pans and put them in the oven together at 350.

Then, I was left with my mess.  
 I am like a tornado in the kitchen.  I leave cabinet doors flung open, spill ingredients haphazardly onto the floors and pile up the carnage all over the countertops.  So, you can guess what I was doing while the bread was baking.  

 I consulted a recipe I found on and determined that 60 minutes was how long I needed to bake the loaves.  I should have checked on them at 50.  As you can see, they came out of the pans just a smidge burnt.  
Yup.  After all that work.  Black bottoms.

The insides of the loaves were perfect, though!  So, I sliced the black edges off and voila!  
Pure pumpkin perfection. 

How long would you guess that whole process took? 

6 hours.  Was it worth it?  I'm still undecided.

Maybe the author didn't come at the issue of food excess from as many angles as I think she could have, but the limitations she placed on herself really did make her think every day.  

"Each meal was intentional, each bite calculated," she said.  "I never had longer than five hours between meals to mentally slip away.  The concept of reduction was never further than my next meal."  

I guess we can all benefit from taking time to think about just how blessed we are each time we sit down to eat, no matter what it is that's on our plates...

"If you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.  The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.  You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail," says the Lord."  Isaiah 58:10-11

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